Monday, February 28, 2011

Night Nurse

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1962
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin

Nurse Kitty Casey’s personal concern for her young patient alienated the boy’s domineering mother who demanded Kitty’s removal from the case. While Doctor Tom Barbour understood Kitty’s feeling for the boy, he had no alternative but to order her reassignment. If she protested, it would mean dismissal from the hospital. But Tom Barbour had never met anyone quite like this spirited redhead. How different Kitty was from his own coldly self-centered fiancée. There was no denying the attraction Nurse Casey held for him, even as she challenged him in a dramatic clash of wills.


“He started to cough; the racking, chronic cough which his mother insisted came from a tubercular condition, although a dozen or more doctors and tests galore had found no trace of T.B. He asked Kitty to light a cigarette for him.”

“Honey, there’s a time to forget about all figures—except how to make the most of your own.”

“The kiss he gave her when he said hello had all the warmth of a refrigerator that needed defrosting.”

“You’re a nurse, and that’s the most important thing of all. All a doctor does is walk in, look wise and walk out again. The nurse is the really big deal.”

“What’s the point in being a doctor if you aren’t going to cash in?”

Nurse Kitty Casey never once works at night. So why is this book called Night Nurse? I seem to be on a string of books that have little to do with their titles (see Runaway Nurse and Ozark Nurse), and frankly, this trend bugs me. When I pick up a book called Night Nurse, I expect there to be at least one night shift, damn it! I mean, otherwise you could just as well call it Nurse Nancy Navigates the Nile. Which sounds like a great book, actually.

The “boy” referred to in the back cover blurb is 19-year-old Kenny Wilson. Kenny has the monster mother we’ve met before in other books by this same author (The Nurse and the Orderly), the fat one who wants to keep her boy a helpless, dependent baby. We’re told this more than shown it, as when sad Kenny tells Kitty that his mom drowned his pet kitten and then whipped him, telling him to control his “silly emotions.” Though we do get to witness Mrs. Wilson screaming at the staff on multiple occasions, the sting isn’t as harsh as if she were saying these nasty things to her own child. 

Kenny is on the brink of a nervous breakdown because his mother ruined his engagement. Kitty encourages his recovery with helpful exhortations such as, “You don’t want to turn into a mental case, do you?” The compassionate Kitty just wants to help the poor, broken boy, but every time she tries comforting him, in walks Mrs. Wilson, who takes her tales of the brazen, provocative hussy straight to the chief of staff, Dr. Tom Barbour. He tells Kitty that she is too emotionally involved in her patients, to which she responds, “I’m a human being as well as a nurse!” Many VNRN heroines seem to consider humanity and nursing to be mutually exclusive (see Headline Nurse), but Kitty is an exception. Must be that red hair of hers.

Being the impulsive, hot-headed gal that she is, she up and quits the hospital, but Dr. Tom chases her down at her apartment that night, and takes her for a drive in the hills of Los Angeles to his secret little house, replete with packed bookshelves and Navajo rugs, on a cliff overlooking the city. Not even his fiancée, social butterfly Eleanor Blair, has been there. Natch, it isn’t long before Tom is kissing Kitty. He doesn’t really love Eleanor, who is a cold, calculating glamour puss who dazzled him with charm shortly after he arrived in California from the sticks. She wants a rich physician husband, but he’s more inclined to be a do-gooder, so they have a lot of arguments about why he can’t make this dinner party or has to go check on that patient. But not to worry, it’s just a matter of time before the men, who are fortunate to have Kitty to set them straight, are pointed in the right direction, which means down the aisle for all three of them (there’s a longtime beau in the mix as well).

Marge, the ubiquitous witty roommate, livens up the dialogue. Marge gives Kitty some advice before her date with Dr. Tom that is worthy of Polonius: “Don’t start fighting the man, even if he does say things to irritate you. Men can’t stand belligerent women. And keep your opinions on all matters to yourself. That’s another thing men don’t like: women with opinions. If you feel your face sort of falling apart, make for the nearest rest room and give it a going over. And take along this vial of perfume—it’s a weapon a gal should never be without. If he tries to kiss you, don’t shy away. You aren’t a skittish horse, you know. And you might throw in a few words about what a wonderful, wonderful man he really is. Nothing throws a man faster than being told how truly wonderful he is.” And this above all things, to thine own self be true.

The writing is crisp and brisk, with some campy touches now and again, and we are regularly treated to sentences like, “ ‘Friends?’ she said vaguely, as if it were a word she must look up in the dictionary,” and “‘Really?’ she said, trying to look wildly interested.” It’s a good book, and it certainly makes for a pleasant afternoon. But I still closed it with a sense of mild disappointment. If only Ms. Stonebraker had just cranked it up a notch, this could have been a great book.

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